By the way, I was going to fix the story up before submitting (because I finished about eight hours before the deadline and had no time to edit), but I figured that would be dishonest, and so I present it here in all it's mediocre glory. Except for the line breaks, I added those, because my initial submission was really, really poorly formatted.
KILLED BY JEALOUS HUSBAND
My cab slowed to a stop in the middle of the street. All around us, other cars were doing the same thing. All I could hear of what was going on out there was the sound of ambulance sirens somewhere far away; the windows were all closed and the air conditioner was on high. It was sweltering regardless. The cabbie shifted into park. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked what was going on.
“Zere are two men lying, probably dead, on ze street up ahead,” he said in an implacable accent, without bothering to turn around. “I do not know any more zan zat, except zat we are going to be stuck here for quite some time.”
I glanced at my watch. I still had an hour and a half.
“I’ve got time,” I said. And then, because I could think of nothing else to discuss: “Do you know what happened?”
He shook his head, wiping his brow with his cap. “No, no, but I would not be surprised to learn zat zose machines were behind it.”
“Well,” I said, “You know that they can’t really cause deaths, those machines, they can only-"
“Have you not seen how many more people are dying now zat zey are everywhere? Before, you look at ze news, you see robberies, sex scandals, politics – now is just death, death, death!”
“Well, you know how the media’s going to show what people want to see – people wanna hear about death, that’s what they’re going to show us.”
He did not reply, and for a brief time, the air conditioner’s loud hum was the only sound in the cab. There was a question, an obvious one, lingering between us, but neither wanted to be the first to ask it.
“So,” he asked, “what are you?”
If he was going to ask, I wanted him to do it directly.
“You know, your… eh… your prediction, how you are going to die?”
That’s better. “Shots,” I said.
“What, shots, like, like, needles? Like at ze doctor’s office?”
I shrugged. “Could be injections, could be alcohol, could even be snapshots or gunshots. It just said SHOTS. So I’ve been avoiding all three. Well, all four, but then I’ve always been avoiding gunshots. What about you?”
“Me, I am not so worried about what ze machine told me,” he said. “It said I am going to die of pneumonia. But my grandfazzer’s friend, he also died of pneumonia, and he lived to be one-hundred and four. So me, I am not so worried. My wife is worried, because she will die of a fall – zat’s what it said, FALLING – but, like you said, she was already trying to avoid falling, so is not like she can do much more. Do you have a wife?”
I nodded. “Funny you should ask, really; I finally talked her into getting tested today – that’s where I’m going right now, to pick her up from yoga.”
“Zat is smart, you should be tested, in my opinion. You know how you are born; you should know how you will die. It is ze worrying zat troubles me, zis fear zat everyone seems to get afterwards, zat troubles me about zese machines.”
I nodded, not really paying attention. I was nervously fiddling with the latches on my briefcase, tugging on the cuffs of my shirt, straightening my tie, tapping my fingers.
“If you want, my uncle is a doctor, and he can do it for you very cheap and very quickly, not overpriced and making you wait for half an hour like some people. I can drive you zere right after we pick up your wife, if you like.”
“That’s very kind, thank you, but my wife has this doctor in Westchester she’s been seeing since she was eighteen, so…”
“Zat is no problem, no problem, I am not offended. I am Taj, by ze way, Taj Raheet.” He awkwardly twisted his right arm to maneuver his hand into the back seat; I shook it and introduced myself.
My wife and I didn’t have much of a chance to talk on the walk from her yoga class to the train station – we were too rushed. Once we had settled down on the train, we relaxed – we still had half an hour before her appointment, so we shouldn’t be too late. I put my arm around her.
“Nervous?” I asked. She nodded.
“Come on, what’s the worst thing you could get? Fire? Crushed?”
“I just… I don’t know… I’m scared.” She leaned against me, arms on my shoulder. “I’m scared of dying. And… knowing how I’m going to die, that’s just going to make it scarier, because then I’ll know what it’s going to be, but I still won’t be able to do anything to stop it.”
All was quiet except for the sound of the train rumbling down the subway tunnel. Every now and again a dim orange light would fly past the dark windows. I tried vainly to figure out what I could say to her. How I could make her less afraid. I could think of nothing but to hold her tighter.
“You’ll be fine, Tess,” I said. “You’ll be fine.”
After we left the doctor’s office, I went back to our Manhattan apartment alone. She was staying with her parents overnight – she didn’t feel comfortable staying with me after reading that card. I couldn’t blame her – well, okay, I could, and I did, but I shouldn’t. That night, I reheated dinner, watched the TV on mute, stared out my window – but mostly I listened. People called me almost continuously – Tess, her parents, her brother, her friends – and I didn’t want to answer any of them until I had time to figure out what I wanted to say. It was ringing again right now.
The answering machine beeped. “It’s me again. You don’t have to pick up, I know you’ve been getting a ton of calls. But… I… I’m just scared, okay? I mean, you’re not a scary guy, but death… death is scary. Like I said. And, I mean, my prediction wasn’t exactly vague, if it said something like FORK I wouldn’t avoid forks, but… it basically said that you are going to kill me in a jealous fit. And I know I can’t just run away from my fate, that’s not how the machine works, I know that the prediction’s going to come true no matter what I do, but… just for tonight, okay? I would just… I would just sleep a bit better here. I’m sorry. I’ll talk to you tomorrow morning. This is my last call, I promise. Night.”
“Night,” I said, unheard. I looked at my clock. Half past ten. Still a while to go before tomorrow morning. I had to talk to someone. Not Tess, not her parents, but someone. I eventually settled on Tori – Tess’ roommate for their last two years of college, and a moderately close friend of both of us. She was one of the first to call me, and she lived in Queens – not too far away. When I called, she agreed to meet me before I could even finish asking.
Shortly afterward, we met at a cocktail bar on East 6th street. I walked in to find her already sitting across the room and sipping away at a julep. Once I’d ordered, we settled into a hushed conversation.
“So, killed by jealous husband?” she asked.
I nodded. “Killed by jealous husband.”
“That sucks. I didn’t even know they made ‘em like that. All the ones I’ve seen were, like, decapitation, or cancer, or car crash. That one’s me. I’m CAR CRASH.” She pulled the card out of her wallet to prove it.
“You’re, what, needles?” she asked.
I nodded. “Well, SHOTS, but yeah.”
“Have you spoken to her yet?” Tori asked.
I shook my head. “Tess? She’s called me, but I haven’t answered. I want to figure out what I’m gonna say first.”
I absently stared at my untouched glass. “I’m not a murderer, Tori.”
She smiled, almost chuckling. “I know you’re not a murderer. And, trust me, Tess knows you’re not a murderer. She basically told me those exact words, ‘I know he’s not a murderer.’”
“I shouldn’t have asked her to get tested. She didn’t want to.”
“She would’ve found out eventually,” she said. “A lot of insurance companies are making them mandatory.”
“A lost of insurance companies are going out of business,” I added.
“That too,” she said, and gave my hand a pat. “You’re resourceful. You’ll do fine. I mean, Tess isn’t so much angry as… just scared. I mean, what if yours said that she was going to kill you?”
I had already thought about that, and had concluded that I should stay with her. Although I suppose it’s easy to say that hypothetically, and quite harder when a doctor hands you a neat little slip of cardstock implicating the person next to you in your eventual murder.
The next morning, I met with her father – he explained that she had spent most of the previous night sobbing, and didn’t want for me to see her like that. I told him that I could understand. After that, I spoke to her mother, her brother, her friends, my friends, her answering machine – I didn’t talk to her directly until a week later, over the phone. I suggested that she come to my apartment that night, but she recommended Central Park the next day, and I had no choice but to concede. The fact that she wanted to meet with me in public, in broad daylight, with plenty of witnesses around, was not reassuring.
I came fifteen minutes early and sat right in the middle of a bench. I had decided against bringing flowers, but I wore my snazziest clothes. Eventually, Tess sat beside me and stared straight ahead.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi, she said. I waited for her to start, and she waited to me to start, and for a while we just sat there waiting. Finally, I started.
“I love you. I love you. And I don’t want to kill you. I would never-"
“Please,” she said, “don’t make this any harder than it needs to be,” and at this point I noticed the official-looking documents folded neatly in half and sticking out of her purse. “I’ve made my mind up and, even if the machine didn’t refer to you, it would just be better for me mentally and emotionally if we…“
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. “If we what?” As if I didn’t already know.
“I’ve been talking to my lawyer,” she said, swallowing hard. “And he said that… because we don’t have any kids, it should… should be a relatively simple process…”
“Oh, you can’t mean you think we should get a divorce!” I said. I knew she did, and I knew she could, and I knew it was useless to fight it, but I had t at least act offended. She nodded.
In the end, her terms were admittedly fair. I got to keep the apartment, and most everything in it that wasn’t already hers. I would’ve preferred if she had tried fighting for more of our stuff – as it was, it seemed like a few belongings were a small price for her to pay to be rid of me faster. Tess and I cut all ties with one another, though most of our friends – Tori included – tried their best to stay close to both of us, to varying degrees of success. So now the woman I loved was gone, because a glorified fortunetelling machine had claimed that I might be responsible for her eventual death. How odd that a little slip of paper, the same size as my business card, could so effectively ruin me.
I stayed single for a long time after that, aside from a few flings, though I had no one but myself to blame for that. I would always tell girls the story of how my wife left me, to spark an interest in them – it is a fascinating story, even I had to admit. Unfortunately, either they began to fear that I actually was dangerous, or else I became too much of a novelty – the boyfriend with a dark and tragic past that they could check off their list before moving onto more serious relationships.
Five years passed without any major happenings. I kept the same job, lived in the same apartment, spoke with the same people (Tess and family aside, of course). Which is why I was so surprised when, one November morning, my phone rang and my caller ID informed me that Tess’ mother was on the other end.
“Hello?” I asked, taking a seat on the counter.
“Is this still the home of –”
“Yeah,” I said, “still me. What’s the occasion?”
“We wanted you to hear it from us,” she said, sounding much older than I remembered, “rather than some faceless police officer.” There was a pause as she sniffed wetly. “Tess has… well, she’s gone missing.”
The room suddenly got colder. I don’t know whether I was more worried that she might be dead, or that I might be blamed for it.
“Now, it’s only been thirty-six hours or so, so the police aren’t looking just yet,” she continued, “but they will be pretty soon, and we want to make you aware just in case.”
If I was more worried about my being implicated – and, mind you, I did not kill her – then I cared more about my own comfort than the life of another, and I was heartless.
“I mean, I’m not calling you because we think you might’ve done it!” she was quick to add. “Personally, I’ve never really trusted those machines, and I was against Tess’ decision to leave you, by the way. Which is why I didn’t want you to find out about this while someone is putting you in cuffs and dragging you away.”
On the other hand, if I was more worried about her death, it means I had never really forgotten about her over the five years we’d been apart, which –
“I’m here, I’m here,” I said. “I was just… I was – I’m still, still processing all of this, y’know? Um, yeah, thank you for telling me this. Do you know anything abou- no? Alright. You too. Ye- no, I know. Alright. Bye.”
I hung up. So Tess was missing. Obviously I was going to be blamed, or at least suspected. Her mother definitely seemed to be holding something back. All she told me was that Tess was missing – not how they knew she was missing, who had last seen her, or anything remotely helpful. I tried calling up Tori to ask her what, if anything, she knew, but after a few rings, her answering machine picked up. I told her I would stop by after work to ask her what was going on.
I stopped by my apartment after work, dropped off my stuff, ate some leftovers out of the fridge, and headed back out, overcoat wrapped tightly around me. By the time I knocked on the door of Tori’s house, the sun already set and my ears and fingers were bright red from the cold.
“Come in,” she said, opening the door and steering me onto a plushy couch, “Come in, I haven’t seen you in so long! What’s going on with you?”
Was she joking? “Well, I mean, isn’t Tess missing?”
“Right, right,” she said, sitting across from me. “So I guess you heard about that.”
She must not have gotten my message. “Yeah, yeah, her mother called me, and I thought you could just… maybe tell me a bit more about what’s going on in, uh, in that… regard.”
Tori clapped her hands together. “Well, two days ago, I was supposed to catch a movie with her, but she never showed up. So I went to her house, and she wasn’t there either. So I figured she had just forgotten and gone out with John that night, but I went there again yesterday, and John said that he hadn’t seen her since he left for work that morning, and he assumed she had been staying with me.”
“Oh,” she said, looking embarrassed. “You didn’t… I thought I saw you at the wedding?”
“Yeah, she and John got married about… two and a half years ago. He’s at the police station now, trying to offer them help.”
I couldn’t believe it. “She got married.”
“Yeah, I guess she just needed some time to accept that she couldn’t stop the prediction from coming true.”
“And she didn’t go to me?”
“Well, she hadn’t spoken to you in two years. I guess absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, after all."
I looked up at the ceiling, down at my shoes, nervously tapping my fingers on the table again. So I was a dangerous lunatic, and she didn’t feel comfortable living with me, but then John rolls around and she’s perfectly fine with… “Who’s John, anyway? What’s he like?”
“Oh,” she shrugged. “Just some guy. Good with computers. Tall.”
“I want to see him. Y’know, to, um… to ask him if he knows anything else.”
It was stupid, I know, but I had to see this guy for myself.
“He’s at a police station in Manhattan,” Tori said, “if you want I can drive you-"
“No!” I said, a bit too suddenly. I didn’t want to drive with someone set to die in a car accident. “I mean, save your gas. I’ll just take the train back.”
By the time I got there, I was thoroughly freezing. Immediately past the front door was a little foyer where you could hang your coat, and just past that was a much larger waiting room filled with rows of stiff plastic chairs. The walls were bare except for a white clock in one corner. Almost eleven. Only one person was waiting, reading a magazine. I took off my coat and sat by him.
“John?” I asked. He looked up from the magazine and shook my hand, confused.
“Yeah, why? I don’t believe we’ve met.” This was going to be awkward.
“Well, I, uh…” Just now did I realize how ridiculous this was. “I heard about you, ah, your wife…” he nodded, clearly still unsure as to who I was. “and I’m just here to, uh, to offer my sympathy during what I’m sure are…” he continued to stare at me, incredulous. “trying… times… look, I’m Tess’ ex-husband.”
His eyes lit up. “Ah, right, right, I remember she mentioned you once or twice.”
“What did she say? About me, I me- you know what, never mind, not important. So, um, how’s the case going?”
“Ugh,” he groaned, rubbing his eyes, “not well. See, what happened is…”
He was launching into story-telling mode. I made myself comfortable.
“… so she didn’t come in that night, so I figure she’s- she’s still at the movies or, or whatever. B-but then the next morning, one of her friends comes in saying she never went to the film in the… in the first place. So then I’m worried. So I call the police, and they tell us that-“ Here he sniffed loudly, and I felt as though I were intruding on something private, and he was telling me this only because he lacked the strength to argue. “-she wouldn’t be considered missing until forty-eight hours pass, so for two days we – that is, Tori and I, the friend and I – just call around all over the place, trying to find her, and no one’s seen any trace of her. So today, I come here, because by now two days have passed, so I figure I may as well give them whatever help I can. Right now, they’re poring over police records from all over the state, looking for any hit-and-runs that might’ve been her.”
“Sorry,” I said, “hit-and-runs? As in car accidents?”
“Well, yeah,” he said, wiping his nose on his hand and his hand on his jeans. “On account of her card, her prediction.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a well-worn card, moist with sweat. “See?”
That couldn’t be right. The card read, in faded letters, CAR ACCIDENT.
“Now, she didn’t own a car," he continued, "so they figure one must’ve hit her.” I had to tell him. He would find out eventually, and if I didn’t he might think I was hiding it.
“That’s not her card.”
“What are you talking about?” he said, laughing. “Right on our second date, we swapped cards, this is the same one she gave me then. I sold my car the day before I asked her to marry me.”
Oh, he would not take this well. “No, John, that’s… that’s Tori’s card. That’s her friend’s card.”
“No,” he said, no longer laughing. “this… this is Te… it’s Tess’. It’s her card. She gave it to me our second date.”
“John, I swear on my life, that card you are holding was not the one the doctor gave Tess. Did she ever tell you why we got divorced?”
“Look, I am her husband now, and I am worried out of my mind here, and I don’t need to listen to you-"
“No, you do,” I said, “you really do. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this. Look, she divorced me because I took her to get tested, and the doctor gave her a little one-and-a-half by four inch white card which said, in black lettering, KILLED BY JEALOUS HUSBAND.” I paused to let him respond. He did not. I do not think he would have been able – his face was a mask of complete and utter shock. “So, she said she didn’t feel comfortable being around me anymore, that she was scared I might do something. Now, the police believed you when you showed them that? I thought everyone was registered or something now, like with fingerprints.”
He shook his head. “That’s only if you have a criminal record. If they find a murder victim, they usually get it tested, but they don’t know where she is, so there’s no blood sample, so they took my word. Jesus, dude, I’m so sorry, I had no idea – she told me it was because you wanted kids and she didn’t!”
“I hate kids!”
“Me too! So that’s why you came here, I guess, because you thought they’d suspect you?”
“Yeah,” I said, “that.”
“I’m sorry, man,” he said, shaking my hand with both of his. “I guess now we’re going to be suspects numeros uno and dos.”
“Hold on,” I said, holding up a finger, “don’t tell them just yet. I want to go ask Tori why she helped Tess trick you, or if she did. And if you tell them now, we’ll be both be taken in. So, yes, tell them, just... wait ‘till I’ve left.”
“Got it,” he said, “that’s a good idea. I’ll tell them you stopped by in, say, fifteen minutes, tell them what you told me. But for now, you go see Tori. You tell her I sent you.”
“I will do just that,” I said, standing. “See you in an hour or so.” As I put on my thick overcoat and walked out the door, I heard him wondering aloud why she chose to marry him despite the prediction. A good question.
I didn’t get back to Queens until sometime after midnight, and the temperature had dropped to somewhere in the low forties. Hands shoved in my pockets, collar turned up against the wind, I marched up her driveway, past her car – was the license plate missing? – and onto the front steps. Tori opened her door just as I was raising my arm to pound on it.
“Talk to John yet?” she asked, stepping aside to let me in.
“Yeah,” I said, walking into her living room. “I talked to John. And he told me something a bit odd. Do you know what he told me, Tori?”
She shrugged. “I can’t imagine anything out of the ordinary. Sit down, make yourself at home!”
I neglected to do so. “He told me that the police were going through local hit-and-run cases. Because Tess had given him a card that said CAR ACCIDENT on it.”
She nodded. “I figured that. I figured she showed him mine.”
“Well, I used to keep it in my purse all the time, but just before her second date with him, it went missing. I assumed she took it because she didn’t want to frighten him off with something so accusatory, but I didn’t confront her because I assumed she’d tell him the truth eventually.”
“Well, she didn’t,” I said. “John was quite surprised when I told him, believe me.”
“Was he, now?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, told me to come right over here. Told me to tell you he sent me. He seemed just as mad as I was.”
“He should be angrier than you are, really,” she said, walking out of the room. “She lied to him, not to you. Hold on a sec, I gotta get something.”
I continued to stand right in the center of her living room, hands in my pockets. She was taking a while. I busied myself for a few minutes counting the minutiae of the room – the carpet had sixty-one concentric circles on it, one more black than white, the couch was supposed to have thirty-six red buttons on the plushy back, but was missing one, and a nearby lamp had a shade made up of twenty-one glass panels.
“You almost done?” I asked.
“Just about!” she called. Was she outside? I heard a loud thunk, and then she entered from the front door. She must’ve left through the back. “Anyway, what were you saying?”
“That John is angry at you. I guess.”
“You think we should go talk to him?”
“Well, I was just there, I don’t really thi-"
“I think we should go talk to him.”
“That really isn’t necessary, Tori, I don’t think he wants to talk to me-"
“I want to talk to him. Get in the car.”
“Do I really have to be there?”
“Get in the car.”
“Can I drive?”
Traffic was pretty thin. It should be, at one in the morning. Tori had been driving for a while. Her Volvo was filled with junk – pizza boxes, extension cords, old clothes, torn magazines.
“Might want to slow down here,” I said, pointing at an upcoming intersection.
“I know how to drive,” she said.
“You sure, now?”
“I’m sure.” She took a sip of coffee with one hand while turning in the wrong direction with the other. I was amazed she didn’t spill it all over her white peacoat – though I guess I was being a tad paranoid.
“This is the wrong direction,” I told her as gently as possible.
“No, it’s not.” She took another sip.
“The police station was right. We’re going left.”
“No,” she said, “John said to meet him elsewhere.”
We sat in silence for a while. Lights flickered past, I held my hands in front of the heater, and soft rock played on the radio. Not long after, I asked, “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what? Billy Joel? Yeah.”
“No, like, a noise from outside,” I said.
“This is New York, there are plenty of-"
“No, no,” I said, shutting off the radio. “Closer.”
We listened. It was clearer now: a long, muffled sound, accompanied by repeated thumps.
“Shit,” Tori said, stopping the car on the side of the road. We were on what had to be the most out-of-the-way street in the city.
Suddenly, there came the sound of ripping, and then, in a gasping breath, a loud scream.
“Let me out! Fuck! Let me out!”
It was clearly coming from the trunk, but before I knew what was happening, scalding hot coffee splashed me in the face. I flailed about blindly, kicking at the driver’s seat, clutching at my face with one hand and at the door handle with the other. I got the door open, but fell out backwards, hitting my head on the pavement with my legs still twisted inside.
You get to know that click, from watching enough movies. It is the sound of the first round of a pistol being chambered, but I recognized it as the sound you hear when someone points a gun at you. Sure enough, by the time I got my eyes open, Tori was standing over me and pointing a pistol right down at my face. Whoever was in the trunk was still shouting for help.
“Stand up,” she said. “And no shouting for help. That means you too, Tess! I have a gun!” The person in the trunk – Tess, presumably – shut up. I extricated my legs from the car and slowly got to my feet.
“Stay right there,” Tori said, stepping back and pulling out her cell phone with her free hand. She dialed a number and waited briefly. “John,” she said, “yeah, he found out.”
So John was in on it. John and Tori were conspiring together, and they had kidnapped Tess. I suppose they had kidnapped me, too, at this point.
“What do you mean, ‘what do you mean?’ I mean he heard her screaming in the trunk and tried to run, and now I’ve got a gun trained on him! No, he’s still awake …shit, you’re right. Hang on.”
She looked at me and said, “Open the door. Get in.” I pulled the handle and – “No, no, other door. Backseat. Quickly.” She was standing about six feet away from me. I climbed into the backseat. “Now lie down,” she said, “head facing me.” I complied.
She violently struck me on the head with the butt of her gun. My vision went black for a split second, my body went limp, and it felt like she had practically split my skull open, but one thing it failed to do was render me unconscious. She slammed the back door and, back on the phone with John, walked around the car and got into the driver’s seat, placing the gun in her lap.
“- no, I know you said not to call you, I know, just… get rid of your phone after this, or whatever, because – no, trust me, I’m fine, I’m fine, I guess I just panicked…” She began driving while on the phone. Where’s a cop when you need one?
“Thing is, when he found out, he kicked my purse and I heard a crack, so he may have…” She wedged her phone between cheek and shoulder and rooted around in her purse, eventually pulling out a plastic bag filled with… were those needles?
“Okay, no, one snapped, but the backup’s still intact – thank God you told me to bring two,” Tori said. At this point, Tess started screaming again in the trunk, and Tori – turning around – yelled, “I thought I told you to shut up!“ I closed my eyes as she was turning around – did she notice? I couldn’t open them, in case she was still looking at me, so I had no way of knowing.
“Shit,” she said. “When I knocked him out, I think I left a mark – no, because I hit him with the gun! Well, you told – no, no, don’t even, you told me to hit him with the gun!”
Jesus. John and Tori were arguing like an old married couple over how best to lead me to my death. Opening my eyes just a crack, I could see that she was even holding the phone between her shoulder and cheek while she drove.
“And now, I’m not sure how I’m going to get him in the warehouse! Should I wake him up, lead him there at gunpoint, and then knock him out again? No, I can’t drag him, what if he wakes up? He’s stronger than me!” My face still stung from the coffee – my jacket was ruined – and I felt like I had the worst headache of my life, but I could move. I shifted my legs slightly, testing them.
“No, I’ll need both hands to drag him, I’d have to put the gun in my pocket, and – are you sure I can’t just kill him first? I know the gunshot residue has to be on his hand, and I know they can… but… no, John, I’m just saying, my way is less risky than sticking a gun in his hand when he’s merely unconscious!” My head was sitting on a wrinkled sweatshirt, and my right foot was on a shoebox, and I could feel, tangled near my calf, a few feet of extension cord. If I could just reach it without her knowing…
“No, ‘cos, look, when the gun goes off, someone is going to hear it. Now, I could be away from the scene by then, but not if I have to shoot her, and tie up his arm, and make sure his saliva gets on the latex band so it looks like he tied it himself, and give him not one, not two, but three shots. And then, what if I leave and someone shows up before he dies?”
Shit. If John told the police that her real death card said KILLED BY JEALOUS HUSBAND just after I left the station, and he stays at the station all night, then when Tess dies there is going to be a grand total of one suspect. Me. I stretched my arm as far as it could go, and the very tip of my middle finger just managed to graze the edge of the cord.
“So,” Tori said, “I’m saying, I inject him, I wait ‘till he’s good and dead, and then I stick the gun in his hand and shoot her. I mean, they can’t tell figure out time of death that well, and you know how lazy the courts have gotten ever since the machines appeared. Plus, the story works out,” I finally managed to get a decent grip around the extension cord with one hand. I just had to wait until the gun was out of her lap.
“Think about it, he’s kidnapped Tess, holds her for a couple days, and goes to the police out of a guilty conscience, right? Now, he realizes that he’s still got a bit of time before they come after him, but not much, right? So he goes back to her and shoots himself up; he overdoses on purpose because he figures he’d just get captured anyway. And then, still high, he offs her –" Tori picked up the gun, pointed it at nothing in particular, and mimed a gunshot “– bang! – just before he dies. It’ll be super romantic. In a Shakespeare kinda way.”
At that, she put the gun down on the passenger’s seat beside her and grabbed the steering wheel with her right hand, the phone with her left. Now I’d have to wait until she got off the phone – I couldn’t choke her if her arm was in the way.
“Well, I guess he just didn’t think about that before he kidnapped her. No, that’s good, it’ll make it more realistic. Criminals are stupid. Alright, I’m almost there. Five minutes or so. Get back inside, they can’t think you’ve been gone too long, it’ll look suspicious. I’ll see you in the morning. I love you, too. Bye.” So they were lovers, too. She hung up and put the phone beside the gun, grabbing the wheel with both hands. I surreptitiously tried to wipe the sweat off my palms.
In one movement, I sat up, grabbed the other end of the extension cord, and coiled it tightly around her neck from behind – she saw me in the rearview mirror, but not soon enough to react. She let go of the wheel to slap at me, and the car turned wildly, swinging me this way and that. Tess resumed her rabid screaming, drowning out Tori’s pained gasps for breath.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I waited for Tori to lose consciousness. She was using one hand to steer and the other to claw at her neck while I pulled harder and harder, struggling desperately against my slick palms to keep a grip on the cord. Tess screamed like a banshee in the trunk, pounding and kicking at it. The car accelerated faster and faster – Tori must have slammed her foot on the pedal as a reflex. Through the windows, I caught the brief flash of light or color, but I tried to remain focused on her.
Eventually, after an eternity of kicking and hitting and grasping and tugging, I felt the muscles in Tori’s neck relax. My heart was pounding in my ears, I was perspiring all over, I had a massive headache, and I was in a speeding car with no driver – so I was in a bit of a panic, you understand. There was no time to think clearly, and I was under too much stress to have much foresight, and so – seeing no other alternative – I wrenched the handle, kicked the door open, and half-leapt, half-fell out of the car, tucking my head and hands into my chest.
I hit the ground with my side, knocking the wind out of me, and then rolled skidding down the pavement for what had to be at least thirty feet. The only reason that I didn’t suffer a very gruesome-looking injury requiring skin grafts was my decision that morning to dress warmly. My black wool overcoat, long, thick, and heavy, was absolutely ruined, but it took the brunt of the damage. The expensive suit under it hadn’t fared much better, and even my shirt was a bit torn up, but my skin – though obviously covered in scrapes and scratches – wasn’t peeling off in flaps as it might have been, otherwise.
My amateur self-diagnosis was interrupted by a loud crash, and I looked up to find the silver Volvo crushed, smoking, against a building at the end of the street. I walked towards it, noting that no one was rushing toward the wreck – it was too late, and we were too far from any heavily-populated areas.
The front was unrecognizably warped and folded into itself, and the windshield sat, in millions of tiny shards, on the dashboard. I could just make out a dark shape, shiny with blood, sitting in the driver’s set, head twisted at an impossible angle. The trunk, however, had only buckled a little, and I ran to it; I tried to pry it open with my bloody fingers.
I pulled on it, and I pounded on it, and I put all my strength into it, but the trunk’s lid would not budge; it was locked, and the crash had ruined the latch. “Tess!” I yelled, working at the lid. “Tess! Are you… are you in there? You okay?”
I hammered on the trunk, tried to get her attention, and – after a few agonizing seconds of silence – was greeted with a sputter and a gasp. She was alive, if just barely. “Tess!” I yelled again, kneeling down to bring my face next to the trunk. “Say something! It’s me! It’s your husband!” I’m still not sure why I said husband, rather than ex.
Tess gasped again, and coughed wetly, and I could hear a few feeble thuds, as if she was trying to knock the lid open from within. Amidst wheezes and groans, very hoarsely, she said, “John?”
“No, no, no, Tess, please, it’s not John, John did this to you, John’s a bad guy, c’mon, please, it’s me! Y- your… it’s me!” I said.
There was a long pause, filled with more wet breathing. “I…” she said, struggling to catch her breath. “I… I’m s-s-s-sorry.”
After that, the trunk was dead silent. The worst part was that the prediction turned out to be absolutely true. I had killed Tess, by causing the crash, and – little though I wanted to admit it – I was jealous. I got to my feet and walked off down the long road, not sure where I was headed, tattered remains of my outfit hanging from me by threads. No one was out on the street, but at one point in my walk, I did hear sirens. I scurried across an alley and into an adjacent street just before a herd of police cars rounded the corner and sped down the one I had been on.
I decided to go to my apartment. John must have told them Tess’ real prediction by this point, which meant I’d be a suspect, and I’d look much more innocent if the police find me asleep in bed than wandering the streets at three in the morning. Keeping my head as low as physically possible, I took the train back to my building, where I was glad to find that no police cars were waiting for me.
On the way upstairs, I ditched the overcoat and suit in the incinerator, just in case someone had seen a figure wandering the streets in tattered clothes suspiciously similar to the ones in my bedroom. I entered my apartment in my underthings.
“Sit down,” a voice commanded. I turned to see John sitting in a dark corner of the room, training a gun on me.
“John,” I said, sitting. “I did-"
“Shut up. I don’t care.”
“How’d you even get in here?” I asked.
“Tess kept your keys,” he said, jingling them in front of me. “And I figured you’d come back here.”
“Do the police know you’re here,” I asked, “or are they ju-"
“I don’t know what the police know,” John said. “What I do know is that they rushed out to investigate a car accident, and then Tori didn’t call me at two-thirty like she was supposed to. I can put two and two together.”
There was a brief pause.
“Why do it?” I said. “For insurance money? I mean, why take the ri-"
A sudden gunshot interrupted me. I heard the sound of shattering glass close by. In the brief flash of light from the muzzle, I caught a glimpse of his face. Cool and calm as his voice may have been, his eyes had an almost maniacal focus to them – and they appeared to be glazed over with tears.
“I’m talking here,” John said. “I hold the gun, I do the talking. That’s how it works. The next time you talk, I’m not going to aim for your lamp. And, really, for money? That’s what you think of me? You’re just like your wife. She never did love me. She kept your keys, she kept your photographs, she kept the ring you gave her…”
At this, despite myself, I couldn’t help but smile inwardly.
“Tori, though, Tori saw me as more than just a substitute. When I was with Tori, I felt loved. And you took her from me.”
“She tried to kill me!” I managed to blurt out, just before he shot at me again. True to his word, this one hit me in the shoulder.
“Tess was quite adamant;” he continued. “she did not want a divorce, not again, and if I pursued one, I didn’t like my chances, property-wise. And, try as she might to hide it, as much as she tried to lie, I found out her real prediction soon enough. I was going to kill her. You can’t fight fate. I was her husband, so I was going to be the one to kill her – and if I didn’t, you would. That was a certainty. That was a fact. That’s how the machines worked. Why fight it? Why put my happiness on hold until she died if I was going to be the one to kill her anyway? But now that you’ve ruined any chance I had at happiness… I admit, shooting you isn’t nearly as poetic as what I had in mind, but… c’est la vie. Or, rather, c’est la mort…”
He stiffened himself, and I could tell that I was going to die very soon. I just had to ask, “What are you?”
“Pardon?” he asked, gun pointed directly at my heart.
“You know, your prediction. How you’re going to die. What are you?”
He laughed. “I’m alive.”
At that, he emptied his gun into my chest, shots cracking into the still night.